Is Former Goldman Sachs Exec Destined for Entrepreneurship?
Greg Smith's spectacular departure from Goldman Sachs isn't the first to hit the firm recently. Just a month ago, the firm's global head of corporate communications, Lucas van Praag, decided to step down. His experience must be missed right now.
Very few executives burn their bridges as publicly as Smith—although more than a few have wanted to. It's highly tempting, when you feel as frustrated, disillusioned, and despairing as Smith, to tell everyone where they've gone wrong. The fact is that very few people do it. Some are bound by contractual restraints, some take consulting packages and many others simply fear that, while they might inflict short term damage on their employer, the long term hit will be to their own reputations. It's hard to get new employers to trust you after you've publicly trashed your former firm.
On the other hand, rage is a great motivator. I've lost count now of the number of entrepreneurs who were driven to start their own companies out of sheer rage. In some cases, they're fed up with not being heard or taken seriously. In others, they've identified markets and opportunities that slow-moving corporations wouldn't develop. And in many cases, deep moral disgust has inspired seasoned business people to create new kinds of companies in which moral purpose is central. Indeed, many entrepreneurs have known what they want their business to stand for even before they know what it will sell.
I love this rage. For the aspiring entrepreneur, it is often just what they need to break through paralyzing fear into action. Demolishing all anxiety, anger can generate energy, drive, and focus. That's great.
What's less productive is letting that rage drive strategy. I've seen a number of companies whose entire strategy is nothing more than revenge, a desire to set up in competition and annihilate the former employer. This is tunnel vision of the worst kind; it doesn't motivate new hires and it often blinds the new business to true opportunity.
So if Greg Smith wants to work again (and after years at Goldman Sachs, he may not need to) he will want to recover first. Rage got him out. It may fuel visions of new, better, more ethical businesses. But ultimately they'll need to stand for more than personal crisis.
Margaret Heffernan is an entrepreneur and author. She has been chief executive of InfoMation Corporation, ZineZone Corporation, and iCAST Corporation. In 2014, she published her fourth book, A Bigger Prize: How We Can Do Better Than the Competition.